In Defense of Degrowth

“The idea of degrowth is contentious, often misunderstood, and (perhaps paradoxically) growing in popularity. In this book, Giorgos Kallis, one of the movement’s leading thinkers, presents an accessible, inspiring, and enjoyable defense. The book’s chapters—a compilation of his opinion essays, newspaper articles, blog posts, and ‘minifestos’—range from topics such as eco-modernism, the history of economics, science fiction, the Greek crisis, and Hollywood films.

The book also features debates and exchanges between Kallis and degrowth detractors. In defense of degrowth is intended as an introduction for the curious, a defense against the skeptics, and an intellectually stimulating conversation for those already convinced but willing to learn more.”

In Defense of Degrowth can be downloaded as a free e-book.

Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades

When and how we upgrade our computer software used to be in large part our own decision. Today, it’s increasingly decided by software vendors themselves, who have automated this process through downloads. Automated software upgrades can increase energy use in different and unexpected ways, without any action from the user.

Before the advance of networked devices and automated software upgrades, the energy use of an appliance was rather predictable, because the features of such devices were static. Now, manufacturers can unilaterally decide to send out an upgrade that increases data and also energy use for all devices.

More and more consumer products are controlled by networked software: what does this mean for energy demand, and exactly who is responsible for increasing consumption? Although increased energy demand will be attributed to consumers, in fact they have little control over it.

Read more: Rebooting Energy Demand: Automatic Software Upgrades, an article I wrote for the UK’s DEMAND Centre. Picture: eBay.

Medieval Heating System Lives on in Spain

The Meseta Central is a vast plateau in the heart of Spain with long, cold winters and short, scorching summers. The locals say that there’s “nine months of winter” and “three months of hell”. The region has little trees, so heating (and cooling) has always been a challenge.

In the early middle ages, the Castillians developed a subterranean heating system that’s a descendent of the Roman hypocaust: the “gloria”. Due to its slow rate of combustion, the gloria allowed people to use smaller fuels such as hay and twigs instead of firewood. [Read more…]

Low-tech Baby Care

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Military Complexity: Lasers or Longbows?

As military capabilties have evolved, so too have their complexity. Indeed, they are in a symbiotic relationship in that advanced military capabilities are both a product of and dependent on a complex network of resources, products, services and organisations.

A comparison of the manufacturing requirements for the traditional aboriginal spear and the F88 Austeyr assault rifle provides an example of how complexity has increased.

Arguably, there is an exponential increase in complexity because the manufacture of modern military equipment is dependent on a number of other industries, such as finance, telecommunications, information technology and energy.

The networks that support military capabilities are a subset of the broader global economy, implying that advanced military capabilities cannot exist without the underlying economic base to support it. [Read more…]

The Slingshot Channel

The Slingshot Channel is a dedicated YouTube channel that covers rubber powered launchers in each and every detail.

Thanks to Edwin Gardner.

Rebuilding, Testing and Documenting Self-Made Wi-Fi Antennas

Pretty Fly For A Wi-Fi revisits the histories, origins and uses of self-made Wi-Fi antennas. Many of these designs were once shared through home pages that no longer exist and are now only partially accessible through the Internet Archive. It is a combination of pots and pans, dishes and cans through which people from around the world give shape to their collective dream of making an alternative internet.

This project tries to revive these designs by rebuilding, testing and documenting them. The antennas serve as an interesting point of departure to think about the internet’s infrastructure and how day-to-day users could potentially influence its shape and use.

Most of the antennas result out of the idea of wireless community networks, an idea which emerged shortly after the commercial introduction of Wi-Fi equipment in the early 2000s. These grassroots initiatives aim to build alternative network infrastructures, often on a peer-to-peer basis and without the need for costly wires. Such network infrastructures can be found on rooftops, balconies and windowsills and can cover large distances by broadcasting from building to building.

They are built for a variety of reasons, sometimes to provide broadband connections in areas where there are none, to make censorship free alternatives to the internet or to share the costs of a single internet connection.

More: Roel Roscam Abbing’s website (pictures) & Lídia Pereira’s booklet (drawings, PDF).

Previously: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.

Solar Concentrator with Inflatable Mirrors

We are reaching an important milestone in the Testfield: the high-precision membrane mirror that we have been working on for the last two years, is standing. A team within the technology group has designed and built a prototype solar concentrator by innovating and developing the inflatable membrane mirror technology first introduced by father and son Hans and Jürgen Kleinwächter several decades ago. The present advances are the result of a dedicated team within Tamera working in cooperation with Jürgen Kleinwächter, SunOrbit (Germany) and supporters in India and Australia.

Our prototype mirror uses 0.1mm thick reflective polymer films inflated with air pressure, over a lightweight aluminium frame, achieving high optical precision cheaply and with very low embodied energy. It has an effective optical aperture of 4m2, concentration of over 1000 times, reaching over 1000 degrees Celsius, and has applications ranging from round-the-clock cooking with storage, through ceramics, metalwork and lime burning for waterproof clay buildings, to photo-catalytic fuel production from water and CO2. Future concentrators will undoubtedly take the technology further.

Many challenges in the components and sub-systems have been overcome over the last two years. Now we will start to see how the system really functions as a whole. We have progressed from unstable wooden experiments to a simple, lightweight aluminium framework, developed a deflectometric mirror analysis technique using computational photography, built a tool to weld flouropolymers together (basically welding Teflon to Teflon), designed and fabricated a dual-axis tracking construction, and invented a robust technique to evenly tension membrane films. We are looking forward to testing and tuning the complete system. System tests will start now, as we continue to complete the details.

Quoted from: High-precision Membrane Mirror Research in the SolarVillage Testfield of Tamera, August 2016.

Previously: The bright future of solar powered factories.

The Pirate Book

The Pirate Book offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws.

These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).

The Pirate Book. Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, 2015. Picture: a code wheel, a type of copy protection used on older computer games.

Thanks to Melle Smets.

The Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy Is More Tech-Forward Than You Think

Despite what you heard, the Amish aren’t against technology. Communities adopt new gadgets such as fax machines and business-use cell phones all the time—so long as the local church approves each one ahead of time, determining that it won’t drastically change their way of life.

So it is with the Amish horse-drawn buggy. You might have thought the technology inside this 1800s method of transportation stopped progressing right around then. Instead, buggy tech keeps advancing, and buggy makers have become electricians and metalworkers to build in all the new tech you can’t see under the traditional black paint.

Read more at Popular Mechanics. Via Amish America.